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The Teaching of Amenemope and its Parallels in the Biblical Book of Proverbs



By:  David Deschesne


Fort Fairfield Journal

March 28, 2018


   Fundamentalists attribute the writings in the Biblical Book of Proverbs to King Solomon alone.  However, those sayings can be dated to much older sources and cultures, and were it seems merely adopted into an anthology of wise sayings by King Solomon around 900 B.C.  The Jewish Talmud dates the editing of Proverbs in its final form to the time of King Hezekiah, circa 700 B.C.  However, those sayings can be dated to sources up to 1,700 years earlier, at a time when the Jewish people or even the first books of the Old Testament hadn’t even been composed.

   Among other ancient books, the Book of Proverbs appears to incorporate sayings from the Kemetic (ancient Egypt) Teaching of Amenemope between Proverbs 22:17—24:22.  According to research by John Ruffle, other earlier ancient wisdom writings also inspired many of the sayings in Proverbs.  Some of those ancient writings are:


Kemet (ancient Egypt)

Teaching of Amennakht

Lament of Khakheperresonb

Teaching of Kheti

Teaching of Ani

Eloquent Peasant

Teaching of Merikare


Mesopotamia (Babylonia)

Councils of Wisdom

Hymn to Shamash

Ludlul bel nemeqi

Counsels of a Pessimist


   As you can see, none of these are Jewish sources, much less “Christian.”  They are predominantly from Kemet (ancient Egypt) and the Babylonian religion of ancient Mesopotamia.

   The teachings of Amenemope weren’t noticed in the book of Proverbs until the early 1900s when the British Museum of Antiquities acquired a papyrus scroll with those teachings on it.  They were subsequently translated and connected to Proverbs by museum curator, E.A. Wallis Budge under the inspiration of his supervisor, Peter Renouf.

   Amenemope was an early Egyptian Pharaoh in the XXIst Dynasty, contemporary with the century of King Solomon, circa 990 B.C.  He claimed the title of “High Priest of Amun in Tanis.”  Amun is the name of the Egyptian sun-god.  Amenemope enjoyed nine years of reign, during which he continued with the decoration of the chapel of Isis and made an addition to at least one of the temples in Memphis.  His wisdom teachings which were recorded on that papyrus scroll were much older though, dating back to very early Kemet in the Vth Dynasty and attributed to the vizier Ptahhotep around 2400 B.C.

   Ptahhotep was a vizier (like a governor or prime minister) and city administrator during the reign of Djedkare Isesi in the Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) Vth Dynasty. He is credited with authoring The Instruction [Teachings] of Ptahhotep, an early piece of Egyptian “wisdom literature” meant to instruct young men in appropriate behavior.  These instructions were passed down through the ages and ended up inspiring many later writings and ideas, some of which ended up in the Teaching of Amenemope and ultimately the Biblical book, Proverbs.

      The discovery of the Teaching of Amenemope in the late 19th century, its subsequent translation into English in the early 20th century and ultimate comparison to Proverbs helped to clarify an apparent copyists’ error in that Old Testament book which rendered the Hebrew word shilshom (three days ago) for the actual word sheloshim (thirty) which caused the word “three” to be translated instead of the word “thirty”.

   In the Jewish translation of Proverbs 22:20 it says,


   “Indeed I have wrote down for you a threefold lore.”


   This is carried forward in the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint,


   “Write thou them for thyself three times over…”


   The King James Version muddies this translation up further by interpreting “three” as “excellent things.”

   The verse was finally clarified when the Teaching of Amenemope was studied and it was found in its Chapter 30,


Look to these thirty chapters; they inform, they educate.”


   Egyptologist, Adolf Erman published an extensive list of parallelisms between Amenemope and Proverbs in 1924.  He pointed out that rendering the word “thirty” instead of “three” not only made good sense in the context, but elucidated a close parallel between the two texts with the emended “thirty sayings” of Proverbs and the thirty numbered chapters in Amenemope’s teaching.

   In the chart below you will find a comparison with some of the verses in Proverbs (taken from the KJV) with those found in the Teaching of Amenemope.

   While many verses in Proverbs appear to be derived from the teachings of Amenemope, as Ruffles states in his thesis, the book of Proverbs was likely influenced by a variety of ancient Egyptian and Babylonian sources predating its composition by over a thousand years and passed down to subsequent generations and societies. Ruffles writes, “It is plain that Proverbs, along with other Biblical wisdom books, has much in common with the wisdom writings of other parts of the Ancient Near East.  Wisdom literature is one of the most important classes of texts from the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia and sufficient examples survive to illustrate both the different national or cultural preferences and, at the same time, the underlying similarity of thought and expression.” (see The Teaching of Amenemope and its Connection with the Book of Proverbs, John Ruffle, Tyndale Bulletin 28 (1977) 29-68.)


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